My interview with Dr Valerie Karras

On Saturday, June 27, 2015, I attended a fascinating Orthodox Women’s Conference held at the historic ROCOR Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin & St Sergius in Glen Cove, New York. Here are some pictures I took of the beautiful, small chapel.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Dedication plaque commemorating the founding of the parish in 1951.

Church exterior.

Church exterior.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the "Tsar's Village", the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

These icons of the Lord and the Theotokos are originally from Tsarskoye Selo, the “Tsar’s Village”, the residence of the Russian Imperial Family.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The beautiful wooden iconostasis.

The conference theme was “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy Yesterday and Today”. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Associate Professor of History at SUNY Albany,  moderated the discussions. It was a great joy to see my spiritual father Metropolitan Jonah, who spoke on the theme of “Sharing Orthodoxy with Teenagers”, as well as my godmother, who both came up from Washington, DC along with a dear friend Sister Eisodia. Several wonderful parishioners from St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral in DC were also present for the event, which was attended by probably 70 people, mostly laity. The very kind Fr. Demetrius Nicoloudakis and his daughter Anastasia visited from Pennsylvania, and it was a great joy to meet them. Metropolitan Jonah spoke first, and then sat through the second presentation before returning to DC with my godmother so that they could attend Vigil at St John’s for his name’s day the following day.

Dr Valerie Karras, Adjunct Lecturer in New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary and board member at the St Phoebe Center for the History of the Deaconess, spoke on “The Liturgical Roles of Women in the Early and Byzantine Church”. This presentation was especially fascinating, as she covered a topic of great interest to me, the institution of the female diaconate which existed from the apostolic age up to the twelfth century in Constantinople. Following this second lecture, a delicious lunch was served by the volunteers. After lunch, Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, whose sister Natasha Fekula organized the conference, spoke on the question of “Does Tradition Change?”. Sister Vassa, Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Vienna, is the popular host of the YouTube channel “Coffee with Sister Vassa”. Following this fascinating lecture, Professor Kizenko moderated a series of question-and-answer with the audience. At the end of the conference, I asked Dr. Karras if she had time for a brief interview. She warmly responded ‘yes’, so below, please read for yourself the results of our interview.

June 27 Conference Poster for "Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today".

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Ryan Hunter: I’m with Dr Valerie Karras who just presented at the Orthodox Women’s Conference here in Glen Cove, New York on June 27, 2015. Dr Karras, where did you pursue your Master’s and your PhD?

Valerie Karras: I received my Master’s in Theological Studies from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology which is the official seminary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. It’s located in Brookline, which is a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I then went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and did all of my doctoral work there. I then went to Greece to start working on my dissertation, but I also enrolled in the doctoral program at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I actually ended up finishing that doctorate, doing that dissertation, and completing that first. I then came back to the States and began teaching and finally finished my dissertation for Catholic University.

Ryan Hunter: What led you to become interested in the subject of the female diaconate in the early Church?

Valerie Karras: I had done some research on it and read about it during my Master’s, and some more during my doctoral work at Catholic University but actually it was really after I did my doctorate at Thessaloniki [that I became interested], because the topic of my doctoral dissertation at Thessaloniki was on patristic views of gender, the ontology of gender, looking at their exegeses, their interpretations of the creation accounts in Genesis. Initially I was planning on that to be the first chapter of a much larger work on Orthodox women, on women in the Orthodox Church, but there was so much there that that became my dissertation. So after I finished that and came back to the United States, I decided to just ditch all the research I had done before then for my initial topic, for my Catholic University dissertation, which was on monastic influence in the post-iconoclastic period, and instead I decided to look at what women were actually doing liturgically in the Byzantine Church.

Ryan Hunter: Who do you regard as some of your mentors, and how did they contribute to this field of study?

Valerie Karras: There are so many along the way. My parish priest actually, Father George Nikozises, who had been director of religious education before he came to our parish, suggested I go to the [Holy Cross Greek Orthodox] seminary. I had been planning on law school. Then I decided that I actually wanted to work with the Church, but what I was initially thinking of was doing administrative work dealing with our church choirs, I was very involved in the music of the Church. He said to me, “I think you need a stronger theological background”, so he suggested I go up there [to Brookline] to get my Master’s. I enrolled in the MTS [Master’s in Theological Studies] rather than the MA in Church Service because I was already doing the fieldwork so to speak, I was very involved with the National Forum of Greek Orthodox Church Musicians and the Diocesan Choir Federation, so I thought “I’ll just take as many theological classes as I can”, and then I fell in love with it, I just wanted to do Church history and theology.

At the seminary I had several professors who were supportive, in particular Father Ted Stylianopoulos and Archbishop Demetrios (Trakatellis), who at the time was Bishop Demetrios. Father Ted is the one in fact who suggested that I apply to Catholic University, I had not even heard of it. It was a perfect program for me, for what I wanted to do, and also where it was located in DC, because Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Library and Research Center is right there. Bishop Demetrios (at that time)– because I was debating about whether to switch to the MDiv program, which was a three year program– said to me, “You’re going on for a doctorate, you don’t need to do that.” One of his classmates was Elaine Pagels, now a professor at Princeton, and he said “She came right out of her undergraduate work. Just go on and do the doctoral program.” So I did. The other women who were at the seminary when I was there were important. Koula Fitzgerald, who had already graduated when I started as a student there, kind of mentored us together, and shared some of this material with us. Then over in Greece my dissertation chairman was very supportive even when I was doing stuff that he didn’t necessarily agree with, coming to conclusions, but he actually found one for me. At one point I had found all of this material from almost every Church Father I was looking at on how they don’t think that there will still be male and female, that the distinction literally will not exist in humanity in the eschaton, and we will no longer exist as male and female, as men and women. I found that in everybody except for Chrysostom, and he [my dissertation chairman] said to me “Oh no, Chrysostom has it too,go and look at his homilies on Matthew” where he deals with the Sadducees asking Jesus about what I like to call ‘one bride for seven brothers’, a take off of the musical. Sure enough, Chrysostom doesn’t say it in so many words, but there’s no other way to understand it, he says “notice that Christ does not say that they shall be like the angels insofar as they do not marry, but rather that they shall not marry because they shall be like the angels”. Well, the angels are sexless, genderless beings.

Zizioulas was really the most important one [at Thessaloniki], Metropolitan John of Pergamon, particularly when I first got there [Thessaloniki] because he was the only one of the three on my committee who spoke English. I spoke French with Fondoulis, who was the Liturgics professor there, for about two years until my Greek got good enough that I could carry on a conversation.

Ryan Hunter: Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the same one who the Ecumenical Patriarch just sent to comment on Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment?

Valerie Karras: Yes, and he’s the one who’s also in charge of putting together the agenda for this Great and Holy Synod, the Council that’s going to be held. He’s probably the Constantinopolitan Patriarchate’s most important ecumenical officer. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) last night [at Fordham University] said that he [Zizioulas] is the most important and best Orthodox theologian in the world today. I was really excited that Zizioulas was willing to work with me, and it’s funny because when I first met with him about this topic, I said that what I was expecting to find was that the Fathers were products of their time, that there would be some sexism, but I thought that on the theological level, this was my own feeling on the theological level, that sexual differentiation is an intrinsic part of human nature and that is somehow a reflection of the divinity, that it’s part of being created in the image of God, and Zizioulas kind of gave me this small smile, he said “I don’t think that’s what you’re going to find, but you start doing the research.” I did, and once I started doing the research, it took awhile for the Fathers to convince me, but they did and my views changed 180 degrees, so then I was like “Oh no, nobody wants to hear what I have to say because it’s going to be the ‘kill the messenger’ syndrome'”, and I have gotten a fair amount of that, people who don’t want to accept that this is really what the Fathers are saying. I’m very big on intellectual honesty, and I just put it out there, that this is what they [the Fathers] have said. You don’t have to accept it, these are all theologoumena, they’re not essential for salvation, just as you don’t have to accept the idea of women being ordained today to the diaconate, so that’s an issue that the Church needs to determine today. But you have to recognize that this is what these people said and did. Those are historical facts, you don’t get to choose your facts. What you want to do with them and how you want to understand them today in our contemporary situation is a different issue.

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier highlighted the variety of consecrated and liturgical roles filled by women in the early Church. These roles gradually fell into abeyance. Do you realistically see them being restored?

Valerie Karras: Some of them have been, and it’s weird how they’ve been restored in different ways. I’ve noticed that a number of parishes at least in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I’m not sure about the other jurisdictions here, they now have these young girls serving as myrrh-bearers during Holy Week. Now I would actually like to see what the Church of Jerusalem did, because it’s interesting — those [myrrh-bearers] were women [grown women who anciently filled the role of myrrh-bearer] and I think that there is still this issue…we have to deal with this crazy issue that somehow menstruation makes you impure. I think that’s why we like to see these younger girls dressed all in white, it’s all this purity idea. My response to that is going all the way back to that Didascalia Apostolorum from around AD 250 and it says “What’s the matter with you, woman, do you think that you’re without the Holy Spirit during this period? If that’s the case, you really have lost the Holy Spirit”, and then it goes on to say none of these things, and it mentions things like nocturnal emissions– these are all basic bodily functions, God has made our bodies this way, none of this is impure. I think that just takes care of it.

Ryan Hunter: So you said some of the early roles held by women have been restored...

Valerie Karras: Yes, the female diaconate in different ways. I’ll first mention a couple of the non-Chalcedonian Churches, the Armenian Church and the Coptic Church have, in different ways [restored the female diaconate]. Inthe Armenian Church starting around the seventeenth century we start seeing occasional references to deaconesses. Then it really seems to ramp up in the nineteenth century, and these female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century–and I don’t know whether there are any left alive now, I’m not sure what’s happened now in this modern era why they’re not doing it, but they were at least up through the middle of the twentieth century…

Ryan Hunter: Even after the Genocide?

Valerie Karras: Right, yes there were many, in fact I gave a talk at the large Armenian church in Worcester, Massachusetts when I was a professor at Hellenic College/Holy Cross, and the priest there, who had grown up in Jerusalem, he remembered a female deacon at the church or the cathedral  there — I’m not sure where exactly it was, and I don’t know, now I can’t remember whether this was something that he saw regularly, or whether she just happened to be visiting — because all of their female deacons in the nineteenth and twentieth century were nuns. He remembered her serving liturgically and that she did everything that the male deacon did, served identically, and in fact in that photograph that I showed [earlier at the conference] she [the Armenian deaconess] is vested identically to the male deacon.

Ryan Hunter: Yes, she has the orarion and everything…

Valerie Karras: Yes. A friend of mine, a colleague from another institution who’s of Armenian background, her family found a photograph of a great aunt who was a nun who was apparently also an ordained deacon. It’s a photograph of her with several of the other nuns who were deacons in this monastery, they’re all wearing the orarion. They’re not vested completely, but they’re wearing the orarion. It’s just amazing. Now the Coptic Church, as far as we can tell, there’s maybe some evidence that there were female deacons in the early Church, in the Church of Egypt, but not a lot.

Ryan Hunter: After the Chalcedonian schism, or?

Valerie Karras: No, it would have been before. They [the Coptic Church] have deaconesses today, they have a lot of them. They’re not ordained as a major clerical order, they’re consecrated.

Ryan Hunter: They’re considered a minor clerical order?

Valerie Karras: I’m not even sure it’s considered clergy, I think it’s more of a tonsuring and consecration. They’re doing all the kind of typical work that you would see of deaconesses in terms of social service and religious education and that sort of thing.

Ryan Hunter: What’s astonishing about what you just pointed out, the fact that it’s the Coptic Church that has resurrected and restored this practice–arguably this is one of the Churches that has suffered more in recent years than many of the others, so in times of crisis, in times of such turmoil, they’ve restored this ancient practice. Do you think there’s anything to be said for the argument that the first world Orthodoxy, so to speak — the United States, Canada, Britain, parts of Europe–they haven’t restored this practice because they haven’t encountered the kind of persecution that makes them want to restore that aspect of what the early Church did?

Valerie Karras: Maybe, but I think that it’s in these areas where we are seeing some of the strongest push for it [the restoration of the female diaconate]. I think that it’s because the Church in general is a minority and it’s in a new place , everything is sort of being rethought. You don’t just take for granted everything, but look at Russia. On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution at the All-Russia Council, they were talking about it [instituting female deacons]. They didn’t really know a lot about it, but there were a number of prominent people, including among the royalty and the upper hierarchy [such as St Grand Duchess Elizabeth Romanova] who were talking about the need for a female diaconate. Now this would not be a restoration because the Russian Church never had it, and yet they knew about it and they thought that it was something that would be good for the Church. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened if not for the Bolshevik Revolution, but there was this openness overall, it was like this breath of fresh air, the Patriarchate had just been restored, it was “let’s enliven Orthodoxy, what are we doing here?”

Ryan Hunter: Your presentation earlier suggested that many of the ancient vocations open to women in the Church — consecrated widows and ordained deaconesses for instance — could and should be revived. How do you see this being accomplished?

Valerie Karras: One way would be to do what Saint Nektarios [of Aegina] did. I think people forget that it has only been about a century — it’s really been less than a century — since we had a few female deacons in the Church of Greece ordained to the diaconate according to those euchologia (εὐχολόγιa) [prayer books with the services in them from the priest’s point of view]. So we’ve got Saint Nektarios doing this, and I think that’s a really important precedent that nobody said [this was impossible] even though there was some disagreement about what we had done. Nobody said it’s not legitimate, how could you say that when we have this long history? Presumably, all he did was use the rite, the service [of ordination] that’s right there in the older εὐχολόγιa.

Ryan Hunter: Were there any efforts by other hierarchs at the time to discipline him in certain ways for ordaining the women as deacons?

Valerie Karras: I think he was getting some sort of flak, because I think that’s why he wrote the letter to the Archbishop of Athens saying “well they were really ordained more like subdeacons” [a clever defense of his having ordained them at all]. But again, what’s the function? We have different functions for subdeacons and deacons. Subdeacons do not do petitions [during the Liturgy, e.g. “In peace let us pray to the Lord”] and these women did. I think that’s amazing because they [female deacons] didn’t do petitions even during the Byzantine period. The whole reason that he [St Nektarios] had ordained these women was because this was a women’s monastery [at Aegina] on this little island and they didn’t always have a priest, and he wanted them to have a fuller prayer life, a fuller liturgical life and cycle of services, their Liturgy of the Hours which is so central to monastic life. So it made a lot of sense, and I think that’s exactly why when the Synod of the Church of Greece decided that they would look at restoring the female diaconate, they wanted to restore it starting with these women’s monasteries, [they believed] that there was a real liturgical need there. Now I think that our parishes equally need them, not so much for liturgical reasons, although that can certainly help there too, but for pastoral reasons.

Ryan Hunter: You kind of touched on this before regarding certain Russian royalty that were active in this regard, but has any of your research touched on the role of Emperor St. Nicholas II or his sister-in-law Grand Duchess Elizabeth in supporting the institution of female diaconate in pre-revolutionary Russia?

Valerie Karras: No, I’m sorry to say that I only know a couple of things that I’ve read [in this area] because my own time periods of specialization are the Early Church and the Byzantine Church, so I don’t really deal with modern Church at all.

Ryan Hunter: I asked you this earlier, but I didn’t get it recorded, so I wonder if you could perhaps touch on this again. You mentioned that most Byzantine women were not public figures, but then we have the imperial consorts, the Augustae, the Empresses, and then we have some instances such as Irene of Athens of women who actually declared themselves as βασιλεύς, they declared themselves as emperors in their own right. Is there any evidence that you’ve come across that deaconesses, who would have been serving in the Byzantine Church at the time, were present at the coronation rites of Byzantine emperors or the empresses?

Valerie Karras: I haven’t seen that. but then I also just haven’t seen the rites described in a detailed way that would say “this is all the clergy that do it”. Because of your question, I do want to kind of look back at Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ De Cerimoniis to see if he’s got anything. Now, I had mentioned about the Empress Helena — I’m sorry I can’t remember whether she was married to, I think it was Emanuel II [Manuel II Palaiologos], I’m not absolutely certain, but it was one of the Palaiologoses, but this is the Late Byzantine period. She took the Eucharist, she took communion, at the door to the altar. Now by that period we know that there were no longer ordained female deacons. There seem to have still been female deacons, women who were styled female deacons but had not actually been ordained, but this may have been used as a monastic title. We know about that coronation, that enthronement, very well because of this Russian pilgrim who writes about it in detail. But it’s unfortunately in this period after female deacons.

Ryan Hunter: It’s interesting, when you mentioned that earlier in your presentation, that this empress as late as the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century was communing at the Royal Doors, at the entrance to the sanctuary, the Beautiful Gate, because that is where empress consorts of Russia, as well empresses regnant and all male emperors before the Pauline Succession Laws changed, received communion at their coronation rites. I don’t believe this was done at any other time, but at their coronation rites, they did receive communion at the Royal Doors. The emperor and I believe the empresses as well, if they were reigning in their own right, were anointed with the holy myron or chrism at the same spot

Valerie Karras: Presumably they were following Byzantine custom.

Ryan Hunter: All of the Russian coronation rites were based off of the available Byzantine service rites and customs.

Valerie Karras: So even though we only know this about Eleni, about Empress Helena, it probably was occurring with many or even all of the other empresses as well. Pulcheria’s situation is unusual because she was essentially reigning, particularly after her brother Theodosius II died [in AD 450]. She does take Marcion as her consort, but she’s the one who’s still running the show, because when she convokes the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon [in 451]  — I remember this because of the work I was doing on monasticism — she sent out an imperial letter demanding that all the monks stay in their monasteries and not be wandering around and showing up at the Council [and disrupt the Council proceedings] because that had been an issue two years earlier with what was called the Robbers’ Council of Ephesus in 449.

Ryan Hunter: So the Empress Pulcheria herself, in her own name, wrote this letter, issuing an imperial edict?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: One other question. I personally am not afraid of this happening, I don’t see it as a threat of any kind, but as Sister Dr. Vassa Larin said earlier, the Church does not exist in a vacuum. Keeping that in mind, do you have any fear that people both within and without the Orthodox Church would mistake the restoration of the historic female diaconate as opening the door for advocates of women to the presbyterate [priesthood] and even to the episcopacy? How would you address those concerns?

Valerie Karras: Well obviously people do have that fear, and that’s why you get some really bad theology and a failure to be honest about the historical record from somebody like Father Lawrence Farley, who then admits that his concern is that if we were to restore the female diaconate then a female priesthood will be not far behind. No, I don’t accept that, because there are two major differences here. One is that where we have a long and solid history of the female diaconate, we do not have that with women ordained to either the priesthood or the episcopacy. So it’s a completely different issue on that level because it’s not a question of restoring something that historically existed, it would be a question of changing the eligibility for those two offices in our faith. So I think that’s one major difference.

The other issue is that these are two very different offices [the priesthood and the diaconate]. It really concerns me particularly when clergy don’t seem to understand the difference between the diaconate and the priesthood. Now there’s a relationship between the priesthood and the episcopacy, in fact of course one of the titles for bishop is ἀρχιερεύς, chief priest, head priest. So [in the Liturgy] the priest is acting on behalf of the bishop, that’s what the bishop signs the antimension that the priest has on the altar, so the priest is able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharistic Liturgy, and the other sacraments on behalf of the bishop. The only sacrament that the bishop does that the priest cannot do is the ordination of higher clergy, or of clergy generally. In the case of the deacon, the deacon is kind of a liminal position. Even though the deacon is ranked as one of the three major orders of clergy — we see that from the early Church orders, there’s clearly a distinction in the ordination rite, and certainly that’s made explicit in some of Justinian’s legislation — even though the deacon is ranked with the priest and the bishop as part of the hierosyni or priesthood in the broader sense, one of the major orders of clergy, the diaconate is still kind of a liminal office. As I mentioned before, the priest doing all these sacraments, being able to celebrate the sacraments, the deacon cannot; the deacon cannot be the celebrant, the deacon cannot baptize, the deacon cannot celebrate the Eucharist; he assists in the celebration of the Eucharist but he is not himself the celebrant.

Deacons cannot marry; in the Roman Catholic Church where the theology is that it’s really the two people getting married who marry each other, the deacon can be the one overseeing this because he’s really just the witness, but in our Church we see the priest or bishop as actually the celebrant of the marriage, and therefore it cannot be a deacon doing it. So the deacon is very different from the priest and the bishop because the deacon does not celebrate the sacraments. The word ‘deacon’ comes from διάκονος (diakonos), diakonia, the Greek word that means ‘service’. We see from the New Testament on that their primary roles were to do what we would today call social service, and they also did administrative functions — archdeacons, that sort of thing, they did a lot of the administrative functions for the Church.

The second thing that shows this difference, I think, is, strangely, the funeral rite. A deacon is buried as a layman, it’s the same rite as we use for the laypeople. They do not have the rite that is done for priests.

Ryan Hunter: Is that uniform throughout Orthodoxy?

Valerie Karras: It should be.

Ryan Hunter: InterestingSo everything that you’re saying is underlining the fact that there is this clearly articulated distinction between the order of the presbyterate, the priesthood, and the diaconate?

Valerie Karras: Right.

Ryan Hunter: So you’re not concerned that there would be some sort of push — “well, women have the diaconate now, so let’s jump to the priesthood”?

Valerie Karras: No, I don’t think it works that way. Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think that women can or should be ordained to the priesthood or the episcopacy; I’m saying that it’s a completely different subject, it is not closely related to the diaconate for the reasons I just said.

Ryan Hunter: Thank you very much for your time, and it was a very interesting interview. Thank you as well for your earlier presentation.

Valerie Karras: You’re welcome!

Metropolitan Jonah Released From the OCA to ROCOR

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine's, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

His Eminence Metropolitan Jonah, then Primate of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in St Catherine’s, the OCA podvorie in Moscow, with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations for the Moscow Patriarchate.

Dear friends in Christ,

It is with a glad heart full of rejoicing that I share with you that earlier today Metropolitan Jonah received a signed letter of official release from Metropolitan Tikhon and the Synod of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) releasing him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral), First Hierarch of ROCOR, has been notified that the OCA Synod has, at long last, made good on their promise to release Metropolitan Jonah. Vladyka Jonah is thus received into ROCOR’s jurisdiction. His status–whether he will be received as a retired or an active Metropolitan– is still to be determined by the ROCOR Synod. The OCA publicly and officially acknowledged its release of Metropolitan Jonah here.

This means that, at long last, Metropolitan Jonah will be free to serve wherever he is blessed to do so by the Synod of the ROCOR and Metropolitan Hilarion. He will be free to serve unhindered at St John the Baptist ROCOR Cathedral (where he has been serving for most of the past three years) and wherever else he is invited to do so, with the blessing of the ROCOR Synod. He will continue his teaching ministry at St John’s (including regular sermons and lectures which may be found here), continue to speak at conferences and symposia and other academic events, and, above all else, continue to serve weekly Liturgies at the Holy Archangels Chapel in Washington, DC. He ultimately plans to begin a monastery, but in the meantime looks forward to living and teaching the Orthodox Faith and serving his spiritual children.

Now that he is no longer in the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah will lose his modest stipend which he has, until now, received from the OCA in his capacity as one of their several retired Metropolitans. ROCOR cannot afford to grant Metropolitan Jonah a stipend, so he will rely on the charitable support of the Holy Archangels Orthodox Foundation to meet his basic living needs. You may donate to the Holy Archangels Foundation and subscribe to receive e-mails here.

In terms of his recent activities, Metropolitan Jonah met this past weekend with His Eminence Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is visiting for the upcoming Washington, DC Orientale Lumen conference this week. Time allowing, Metropolitan Kallistos will join Metropolitan Jonah in con-celebrating Liturgy at the Holy Archangels Chapel this coming Friday, June 19.

At the end of June, on Saturday, June 27, Metropolitan Jonah will present at a conference at the ROCOR Church of the Intercession in Glen Cove, NY, titled “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today” along with Dr. Sister Vassa Larin and Dr. Valerie Karras. Dr. Nadieszda Kizenko, Professor of History at SUNY Albany, will moderate the discussion. Below is the event poster.

June 27 Conference Poster for

June 27 Conference Poster for “Living and Thinking Orthodoxy: Yesterday and Today”.

Metropolitan Jonah will then travel to South Carolina to commemorate the murder and martyrdom of the Russian Imperial Family, the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II and Tsarina-Martyr Alexandra and their children, along with the Tsarina’s sister the nun Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her companion the nun Varvara. He will serve vigil at the ROCOR Church of St Elizabeth the New Martyr in West Columbia on Friday, July 17, followed by Liturgy the following morning, St Elizabeth’s feat day and the day of her martyrdom. On Sunday, July 19, he will again serve Liturgy, followed by giving a lecture on “Temple Worship and the Liturgy”.

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Glory to God for all things!

On the unfortunate decline of fasting among many Orthodox Christians today

“. . . Another reason for the decline in fasting among Orthodox is the argument, commonly advanced in our times, that the traditional rules are no longer possible today. These rules presuppose, so it is urged, a closely organized, non-pluralistic Christian society, following an agricultural way of life that is now increasingly a thing of the past. There is a measure of truth in this. But it needs also to be said that fasting, as traditionally practiced in the Church, has always been difficult and has always involved hardship. Many of our contemporaries are willing to fast for reasons of health or beauty, in order to lose weight; cannot we Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom? Why should the self-denial gladly accepted by previous generations of Orthodox prove such an intolerable burden to their successors today? Once St. Seraphim of Sarov was asked why the miracles of grace, so abundantly manifest in the past, were no longer apparent in his own day, and to this he replied: ‘Only one thing is lacking – a firm resolve’. . .”

The full article, edited in 1977 by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) and the late Mother Mary, which is so excellent that I can offer no reflection or analysis to in any way improve upon it, may be found here in its entirety.

I wish all who are celebrating it a joyous Maslenitsa or Cheesefare Week! May you enjoy many blini, cookies, cakes and other buttery sweets before Clean Monday and the full advent of the Lenten fast!

This week before the start of the Orthodox Lenten fast is comparable to Mardi Gras, but people feast for a whole week rather than just the day before the start of Lent, as in Western Christianity which marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Great Lent for Orthodox Christians starts on Clean Monday, which directly follows the Sunday of Forgiveness.

Maslenitsa marks the first meat-free week of the fast, easing into the stricter fast of Great Lent during which faithful Orthodox Christians abstain from all meat and dairy products, and devote themselves to charitable works and increased prayer focus.

During this week, most Orthodox Christians prepare to go without dairy products (starting the following week) by using all their butter, eggs, milk, shortening, etc. to make delicious pancakes, cakes, etc. I just made homemade Belgian waffles for a ‘contrary’ dinner!

September 24 & 25: St Silouan, St Sergius and the anniversary of my catechism

Today marks two years to the day from when Metropolitan Jonah received me as a catechumen at St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral on Sunday, September 25, 2011. The New Calendar that day commemorated the feast of the 1392 repose of St Sergius of Radonezh, founder of the beloved Holy Trinity Lavra (Троице-Сергиева Лавра), and one of Russia’s greatest wonder-working saints.

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This historic painting, “Vision of Young Bartholomew”, by M.V. Nesterov (1862-1942) shows the scene in St Sergius’ hagiography in which an angelic elder endows the devout boy Bartholomew, the future St Sergius of Radonezh, with the divine blessings of literacy and chant. See “A Miracle of Knowledge: St Sergius of Radonezh”.

Yesterday, September 24 marked the celebration of my patron saint, the extraordinary elder Silouan the Athonite. Because he reposed on this date in 1938, after the introduction of the Revised Julian (New) Calendar in several of the local Churches, his feast day is one which is celebrated on the same day (but different ecclesiastical dates) according to both calendars.

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 A photograph from September 1933 of St Silouan (1866-1938) with his disciple, Elder Sophrony (1896-1993).

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In honor of my beloved patron, I humbly offer this wonderful piece about St Silouan from John Sanidopoulos’s excellent blog Mystagogy.

I will also provide this link, courtesy of Mr. Sanidopoulos, to a superb talk which Fr. Zacharias Zacharou of Essex gave on St Silouan and his disciple and hagiographer, the late and venerable Elder Sophrony (Sakharov), himself the mentor of Fr. Zacharias and the founder of the Stravropegial Patriarchal Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex.

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The holy and venerable Elder Sophrony (Sophronius) Sakharov (1896-1993). Hagiographer and disciple of St Silouan, and founding abbot of the Monastery of St John the Baptist, many revere him as a Saint.

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An icon of St Silouan which is very dear to me.

Metropolitan Jonah and my godmother are currently in England as I write this, spending time at the Monastery at the invitation of Fr. Zacharias, and visiting with His Excellency Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. I ask your prayers for my spiritual father and godmother in their travels, and lastly, for myself.

Metropolitan Jonah hosted as one of three keynote speakers at the 2013 Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist International Conference

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The presenters and attendees of the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist’s 2013 summer International Conference gathered on the lawn outside the main residence of the historic Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire for this group photo.

Two weeks ago, from the 12th-14th of July, a group of British and American Orthodox hierarchs, scholars, clergy and interested laity gathered on the beautiful grounds of the historic Hayes Conference Centre for a summer conference. Located in the idyllic country parish of Swanwick, Derbyshire in central England’s East Midlands, this magnificent estate was an ideal gathering place for one of the world’s preeminent annual Orthodox conferences.

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A central courtyard in one of the main buildings of the historic Hayes Conference Centre, sporting a fountain and a life-size chess board.

 

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The Conference Centre boasts magnificent grounds typical of historic estates in the lush East Midlands of rural central England.

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Looking toward the main house, built in the 1850s as a private gentry residence.

The Hayes Conference Centre was the site of this year’s Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist annual summer conference. Triennially, this resident weekend conference becomes a major international gathering, and so it was this year, with the theme of the conference being “The Liturgy: the Entrance into the Kingdom”. 

As the OFSJB website maintains, 

The Fellowship was founded in 1979, and works with the blessing of the pan-Orthodox Episcopal Assembly for the British Isles and Ireland. It enables English-speaking members of the many Orthodox Church Traditions in Britain and Ireland to come together and through prayer, discussion and mutual friendship, deepen their commitment to, and understanding of, the one Orthodox Christian faith. 

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The conference hierarchs, clergy and laity gathered to celebrate the divine services in this beautiful hall.

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Vespers in the chapel.

As this conference poster indicates, Metropolitan Jonah joined two noted British Orthodox lecturers in delivering keynote presentations, while His Excellency Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia also participated in the gathering as a friend and guest of the Fellowship, in whose activities he has been closely involved since its 1979 inception.

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Numerous Orthodox books were on sale at the conference.

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The conference speakers and attendees gathered in this beautifully lit central conference room. Metropolitan Kallistos sits to the right in the foreground, Metropolitan Jonah to the left, and Archimandrite Zacharias in the middle.

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Presenting on Friday evening, 12 July on the subject of “the Liturgy as a means and a place where we exchange human life for Divine Life” was Archimandrite Fr. Zacharias (Zacharou), the spiritual father of the Patriarchal Stavropegial Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex. Archimandrite Zacharias himself is the biographer and disciple of the Monastery’s founder, the venerable Elder Sophrony (Sakharov) of blessed memory; Elder Sophrony was the disciple and hagiographer of my patron saint, Silouan the Athonite.

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Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) of the Essex Patriarchal Stavropegial Monastery of St John the Baptist, under the omophorion of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and New Rome.

According to the conference programme, Metropolitan Jonah presented his lecture, titled “For Thou hast brought us up to heaven and endowed us with the Kingdom to come”, on Saturday morning, July 13.

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Metropolitan Jonah presenting his lecture.Image

That afternoon Dr Andreas Andreopoulos, Reader in Orthodox Christianity and Programme Leader of the MTh degree in Orthodox Christian Studies at the University of Winchester, presented his topic, examining the theological depth and beauty of the words “For All and in All”. Dr Andreopoulos is the author of numerous articles and essays on Orthodox spirituality, and the author of several books, including This is My Beloved Son: The Transfiguration of Christ, with a foreword by Metropolitan Kallistos, and The Sign of the Cross, with a foreword by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green. 

Early Sunday morning, the two hierarchs Metropolitans Jonah and Kallistos con-celebrated Matins and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy together, with Metropolitan Jonah delivering the homily. The conference concluded at three in the afternoon the same day.

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Metropolitans Jonah (left) and Kallistos (right).

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The two Metropolitans con-celebrating Divine Liturgy on the morning of Sunday, 14 July.

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Metropolitan Jonah blesses the worshipers with the dikirion and trikirion (double and triple candlesticks signifying the two natures of Christ and the Holy Trinity).

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Metropolitan Jonah offered the morning homily.